Where Harley Street crosses Fleet

As editor of The Lancet, Britain’s leading medical journal, Richard Horton, M.D., finds himself straddling two worlds. “Editors have one foot in the perfumed halls of academia and the other in the sewage-strewn gutters of the press,” he said in April at the 52nd annual meeting of the Associates of the Cushing/Whitney Library. His journal’s readership is a broad clinical audience. Only 300 of the 6,000 manuscripts submitted each year are published, Horton said, and they must meet journalistic as well as scientific criteria. When they find their way into the hands of the lay press, misinterpretations can have unfortunate results. One study published in his journal described a possible link between submissiveness in women and lower rates of heart disease. The resulting newspaper headline? “Put down that rolling pin, darling, it’s bad for your heart.” Another press report, however, led parents to the mistaken belief that childhood vaccinations could cause developmental disorders. “There was a panic, a serious drop in the uptake of the vaccine,” Horton said. “The effect was catastrophic.”